Where have I been?!

Wow. Literally. I’m almost embarrassed at the fact that it’s taken me this long to get back to writing an update. I guess life got busy quite suddenly! So much seems to have happened in the past few weeks that I can barely seem to recall everything.

The only reason I seem to be able to fathom right now is, that at first this was a year abroad blog, documenting just a small portion of my life that I wanted to treasure and remember all the amazing experiences I had. Yet now that this year abroad is somewhat pushing the boundaries of that, it’s become more peculiar, as I now feel like I’m documenting my actual life, not just a bounded year of crazy antics.

Some may not know that I have in fact decided to extend my contract teaching English here in Graz for a further year, and alongside that I’ve also decided to begin studying again, so in october I will be starting my masters degree in Translation and Interpreting. I feel like this is all part of laying my foundations here; I’ve began to feel so settled that I truly can’t imagine a life elsewhere. Many people ask how do I live so far from home or how can I function using another language, but actually it’s become a home and I feel lucky to be able to say I have two homes now. It’s a feeling that I know many others who have spent time abroad could vouch for, I found a happy place and I intend to see where life takes me here!

The past few weeks/months have been a mix of work, trips out and about, new jobs and all dashed with fun and making memories! At easter time the family came out to Austria and we met in the beautiful city of Innsbruck to explore the Tirolean wilderness. The city itself is an absolute gem; so stereotypically what you would expect of Austria! Surrounded by snow capped mountains, made up of small side streets with traditional bakeries and gasthauses shipping out schnitzel and strudel by the boatload and filled with sounds of yodelling, music and that delightful tyrolean dialect which took a good while for my ears to adjust to hearing. Highlight of the trip had to be the view from the top of the Hafelekarspitze mountain. The weather cleared right up and we could see for miles and miles, it was just perfect.

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Another long bank holiday weekend also resulted in hopping over the border to Slovenia to the city of Maribor. I’d previously been there on a trip when I was here last time, but seen as the sun was out and it was only a matter of an hour trip, a friend and I decided it was the perfect opportunity to hop on the train and make a day out of it! Maribor itself isn’t the biggest city by any means, yet it’s the perfect little size for beers by the river, enjoying good food and enjoying some slovene sunshine. Truly lovely!

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Over the past few weeks many things seem to have all fallen into place with regards to summer and beyond! I wasn’t quite sure how things were going to turn out for summer, yet after some sorting, planning and applying it seems things have turned out better than expected. I managed to secure a job with another language school for summer where I will be teaching English to a range of ages and abilities, and then also fixed a placement in a translation company which I’m hoping will give me a good grounding for starting my masters too! I’ll be back on UK ground for July, which I hope to fill with lots of catch ups and relaxing time back in my Welsh homeland!

More updates will follow as and when! Ciao for now!

-Katie

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Spring, Snow & Skifahren

First things first. Time flies. How did we get to march already. I’m somewhat perplexed at the notion that in two months it will almost be time for the summer break. It feels like so many things have been going on and falling into place the past few weeks that it’s been a little frantic, yet I’m once more pleased to be able to say it’s a good frantic feeling!

Now it’s time for a little throwback of what’s been going on the past couple of months pre-the appearance of spring…

Firstly, though it may seem like a while ago now, let me tell you about the snowy wonder, the picture-perfect gem that is Hallstatt.

In just over two and a half hours from Graz we were transported to what felt like a different world. Truly, it could well have been green-screened like some crazy Disney-world-esque virtual reality experience. Austria just never fails to stun me with it’s beauty, just when I think I’ve seen it all. We arrived at Hallstatt station and were greeted by the glistening lake and a view across the lake to the town which was donned in a white blanket of fresh snow, which was so beautiful and perfect. And yes across the lake! It soon came to our attention that in order to reach the town we were to follow the medieval tradition of taking a boat over to the other side. It was lovely though and it added to the mystical other-worldly-ness of the entire day.

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Usually a bustling tourist hotspot, Hallstatt in its mid-winter state, was, in fact, eerily quiet. Many shops and cafes were closed up for the winter and most of the people there were visiting to go on snowy mountain hikes in the area. I was going to say that’s not specifically what we were going for, yet our casual walk turned into attempting to follow a trail, ending up being knee-deep in snow, falling face first into said snow, many times, and ended with falling/slipping/sliding/sledging without a sledge back down into the town. All in all resulted in a lot of cry-laughing and soggy snow-covered clothes.

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Hallstatt was a perfect little snowy day out, and despite the fact that it did get a little ghost-town kind of feeling towards the end of the day, it was beautiful regardless. I’m definitely going to have to go back in summer and hopefully make it further up the mountain trail before sliding half the way back down!

In other news I also had the chance to tick off a new year’s resolution and for the first time ever I put on a brave face (90% of the time) and went skiing… It was quite possibly..The Scariest. Experience. Of. My. Life. Yet it is also up there with one of the funniest, so the trauma is kind of balanced out at least! The day started with no plan at all, we hired skis and got on the chair-lift and went up the mountain in search of a kids learning area. Yes, we were possibly the most ill-informed first time skiers of all time. I’d barely made it off the chairlift before ending up in a heap with many pro-austrian skiers looking over as if to say, ‘literally what is this person doing!?’ Things progressed, we’d been skiing/falling/getting stuck/definitely not actually skiing for approximately half an hour. And, well, long story short. Kids area closed. Only alternative. An actual slope, that was actually pretty steep. Resulted in getting mildly stuck on the side of the mountain and having to be brought down on a snowmobile by the mountain rescue. = *death by  embarrassment*. Hence in the afternoon, we booked for a last minute private lesson. So in the end it turned out better and left me feeling pretty eager to be able to book for a longer time and get learning!

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Now we have arrived in March it seems the winter time is slowly coming to a close, which means we are finally enjoying some spring sun and basking in the tropic like temperatures as they return to double figures! Yay!

In other news all is going well! Still! And over the next few weeks there are some fun things planned, trips, jobs and just so much to look forward to in general! More news soon about all things österreichisch and wonderful.

2017; Come What May

The new year has begun with an icing-sugar-esque dusting of snow over the grünes Herz of Austria, and I am suitably excited by this. Though should you ask me at 7am in the morning when I’m waiting for the bus to school in -10 degree temperatures, I may have a different outlook on the whole winter time vibe.

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Christmas time both in and out of Austria flew by. And to be honest I’m actually going to miss the days of finishing work, going for a glühwein or two and a wander round the markets. Oh well there is always next year! The last couple of weeks before the holidays also provided the perfect opportunity in school to display some of the crazy in ands outs of a typical British christmas time. Of which most students were completely flabbergasted by! Showing them pictures from my own christmas celebrations provided them with considerable entertainment; at first they were slightly sceptic about my sanity when I introduced them to the wonders of paper hats in crackers, leaving mince pies for Santa and setting puddings on fire, but they soon came to realise that a British christmas is in fact, a lot more fun than theirs, and they were soon asking if they could come and join my celebrations instead! I didn’t quite realise how different their celebrations were here, but I guess it gave me the chance to learn too, which I figure I’m doing a lot of here already.

In other news, as some may already know, I have, in fact, decided to apply to extend my contract as a language assistant. Not only have I found a place in the world where I feel at home, but I’ve also found some direction in what I enjoy doing career wise. Naturally there are ups and downs, some classes will go absolutely perfectly, some may not go to plan, but overall I can firmly say that most of the time things are going just swimmingly. When you walk into a class and they are cheering and smiling at the fact that you are there today, it makes it worth every ounce of effort put into planning lessons. Plus the fact that leaving school for the day knowing you’ve helped someone or made someone feel that little bit more confident about speaking up, it makes it all worthwhile. Many of my school years personally were spent as ‘the shy one’, where it would be a battle to even get me to put my hand up, so to now be on the other side of that, seeing students who are slowly getting more and more confident speaking up, there is nothing more satisfying than that. This whole venture could have gone one of two ways, and right now I can honestly say that I can’t envisage not being here; I found a happy place! Of course there will be many more hurdles whilst I get everything truly figured out, but just the ideas and prospects that lay ahead are exciting to me.

January, for many of us, has meant new beginnings and vague attempts at the whole new year new me lark. And I’d like to think I was one of those people who could make some drastic life changing resolutions, but I feel like that new start began back in September already or maybe even before that when this whole venture commenced. Usually as the clock strikes on new year I’d be anticipating some crazy and rash decisions to change something in my life just for the sake of it, but it somehow didn’t feel so necessary this year. There are some things I endeavour to try, skiing being one of them (I mean, I live in Austria it would be rude not to give it a go, right?), but in general I rather I opted just to keep doing what I’m doing, having fun, embracing any opportunity and following my instincts!

For lack of words to put it any better myself..to you, 2017, I say simply, come what may!

Teaching, Trials and Tribulations

“Do you speak German?”, “Can you say Oachkatzlschwoaf”, “Do you like tea?”, “Does it rain there?”, “Do you know the queen by the way?”; just a sample of the many questions I’ve encountered over the past few weeks as ‘Katie’ aka. ‘the english one’. 

Before embarking on this teaching venture I was not sure quite what to expect. Many people had told me before about their own experiences, yet I still struggled to envisage how it would be for me, because I had never done any teaching before this. For that reason I thought I would collect together a few trials, tribulations and experiences from the past few weeks to advise future assistants, for memories sake and purely for the hilarity of some situations.

  • Be prepared to introduce yourself..fifty times over..

Firstly, I’ve lost count now of how many times I’ve walked into a classroom and done the introduction routine. Some teachers may want you to go straight into a topic or not take up too much time but whatever happens, one way or another you have to introduce yourself. I teach thirteen classes a week in two schools (week A and week B) and plus a few extras that have been swapped and changed on occasions, so I wouldn’t hesitate to say I’ve done the ‘Hi, my name is… and I come from…’ routine at least thirty times. My drawing of the UK has gone from bad to worse; to the point of some students questioning, ‘what is that exactly?’… which provided some amusement at the very least.

  • Prepare to be interrogated..

Students are curious. Very very curious. About just about everything in your whole life. There was no way I could have possibly prepared for some of the interrogations concerning everything from hobbies, pets, family, languages, rain, tea, royals to english butter, boyfriends and brexit. Truly I feel I’ve heard it all!

  • A chance to learn..

As the school system is different here in Austria this means that many things vary in the types of schools and their curriculums. Students can choose from a younger age what focus they want on their studies, which means that some high schools have different focus areas and specialities. For example my schools both have a business focus, which means that some topics are somewhat unfamiliar! In the past few weeks I’ve covered all kinds of topics, from advertising and branding to business ownership models (the one time I wished I remembered anything from GCSE business studies..) and marketing. This means that I’ve had to do a fair amount of work and research to make sure I’m informed enough to be able to then discuss a topic thoroughly enough with the students. Obviously this has proved challenging in some cases, but actually it’s good that I get a chance to learn some things too!

  • Expect the unexpected..

There is sometimes no way to prepare for the everyday trials and tribulations that teaching throws at you, and sometimes you just have to bite the bullet and deal with whatever gets thrown your way. Things can’t always go as smoothly as you would hope. Especially concerning technology..when you plan a lesson on tourism and want to show a video, then the sound doesn’t work be prepared to provide a voice over commentary.. yes this happened, but I’d like to think my commentary did the Welsh tourist board justice! Aside from that there are many things that have been sent to try and throw me off guard; whether that’s rowdy students or the casual attitude towards swearing in the classroom, some things can come as a bit of a shock at first. Once I asked a class what they would do if they were a millionaire and one student shouted ‘I’d spend it all on drugs’.. needless to say my facial expression perfectly encapsulated my response. Not impressed.

Overall these past few weeks have been quite the rollercoaster! I’ve surprised myself with how much I’m actually enjoying it all; yes it is daunting at first to stand up in front of a class of 15-19 year olds who think they are too cool for school and be presented with the task of motivating them, but in fact once you get on their level and don’t take things so seriously, they will respond eventually! Honestly most the time you just need to make a bit of a fool of yourself, make them laugh, be real and make them feel comfortable enough to talk to you! It also really helps if you can get them talking about topics relevant to them and something they identify with; the other day discussing cultural differences with an A-level class I asked them if they had any tips for dating in Austria and I couldn’t get a word in edgeways, worked a treat!

I feel so lucky to be here and have this opportunity; feeling like I actually might have some direction in my life! Schau ma mal… 🙂

Alles Walzer!

It probably won’t come as a surprise to know that packing a ballgown was not on my list as I headed for Austria, but it probably should have been!

Austrians pride themselves on their lavish ball culture and since I started teaching here the Maturaball (end of school leavers ball), was at the forefront of discussion. I mean, I literally spent one lesson last week discussing ball gowns, who was dancing with who and all the rest that comes along with the elaborate organisation of an event. Leaving school for me meant a rather modest meal and disco-esque celebration, yet here the school had hired out the biggest event space in the city (as in capacity of thousands), hired a live band, professional photographers, spent weeks learning dance routines, invited all their family and friends and topped it off with all the classic trimmings, red carpet included. A truly insane amount of money was spent on the event too. Students had to raise a few hundred Euros each to make this all happen, some even got companies in the city to sponsor them for the event, worlds away from anything I experienced anyway!

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The sheer scale of the event was what shocked me the most and the whole night was a programme of speeches, dancing and performances! Upon arriving I felt so surprised by the amount of people and also felt lucky I’d met a fellow teaching assistant to go with, because we both said we wouldn’t have had a clue where to go or what to do if we were alone. It literally took us half the night before we found the teachers or anyone we knew from school! The night started off with welcoming speeches and awards, and then the formal procession began with the reeling off all the names of the students leaving, which took.. a long time, but it was nice too see them all dressed up so smartly! Afterwards the students did their traditional formal dances that they had spent weeks learning, which was lovely to see! The dancing is such a key part of the Maturaball culture and most students said they really loved learning to dance anyway! It made me very jealous that I never got the chance to do anything so cultured for my leavers prom! Most of the rest of the night was filled with lots of music from the live band and lots of traditional dancing, which I loved. Even I got up and had a bit of a Waltz…well I attempted to learn the basics! Perfect chance to I thought! And that wasn’t just because I’d had a fair few glasses of wine, but that helped! It’s actually made me really want to learn to dance properly seeing all the professionals (aka. Austrians) dancing away!

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Around midnight, you would think the night would be coming to a close, but no, in fact, this is a special time of the night where the students dress up in funny outfits and each class puts on a kind of comical sketch performance, called a ‘Mitternachtseinlage’. The theme of the ball was Hollywood so we had everything from Mary Poppins and Pink Panther to Pirates and Star Wars battles! It was all very unexpected, but lots of fun nonetheless! Another couple of hours of dancing, drinking and chatting to the teachers topped off the night perfectly. We were a few of the last ones left at the end of the night, to the point of the cleaners coming round at almost 3am telling us we had to go! Most of the students had moved onto clubs and such to party even more, but I quite welcomed getting home to bed and taking off my heels! 3am was good for me anyway! I sound like an old woman… think I’m just out of partying practise perhaps! 😉

Anyhow the evening was a true spectacle and you never know hopefully I’ll get to go to another in the future! Unfortunately it was hard to get many good pictures at the event but the local newspaper reported on the event and took lots of lovely pictures which you can check out here if you are interested! http://www.kleinezeitung.at/steiermark/landleute/baelle/5113574/HLW-Schrodinger_Stilvolle-Ballnacht-der-HLW-Schrodinger

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In other news life in Graz is still as fabulous and exciting as ever! Teaching is going very smoothly, though having said that the past week has been abundant with bank holidays and such so I can’t say I’ve been overloaded with things to prepare! Last week I also attended the pub quiz with some fellow teaching assistants and to our great surprise we ended up winning one of the rounds which meant we won a 100 euro voucher to use on drinks there, so it covered our tables tab for the evening, what a joy!

Also the christmas tree has already gone up in the centre of town and they’ve started putting up all the market stall huts, so I’m secretly already getting super excited for the magical festive season here in Österreich…It’s the most wonderful time of year after all!


 

All things Autumn

A night off lesson planning, a chance to sit down with a cup of tea and write. Finally! Here’s an update on the past few weeks..

Stepping in front of a class for the first time when you’ve never done it before is kind of daunting to say the least! As tempting as it would be to say that the past couple have weeks have been about settling in and easing into the school routine, well this really wouldn’t be true at all. I have, in fact, been thrown in the deep end in some respects, but actually that has been the best way to get straight in there and get going!

As I am placed in two schools here in Graz I spent one week introducing myself to all the classes in one and then spent the week after doing exactly the same in my second school. So for 20-odd classes is was a case of “Morning everyone! For what seems the fifteen hundredth time let me draw you a map of what’s meant to be the UK and tell you my life story” For the first three or fours times it’s fun and exciting, but each time after that I felt a bit like a broken record stuck on the same track. Although having said that the bewildered faces when I spoke Welsh could never get old! Most students interestingly didn’t know Wales was a country and many thought Welsh was a dialect of English. So I was glad that if anything my Welsh A-level had stood me in good stance to rectify this unfortunate misunderstanding. I had feared that it would be difficult to fill a lesson with the compulsory ‘Hello my name is..,and I come from..’ things but actually it proved more than successful, as to my surprise students were generally very curious about, well, just about everything, from questioning me on Brexit to asking how much tea I drink, to whether all British people eat salted butter and what brand of lipstick I was wearing that day, I truly heard it all!

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The past week has been my third week of the term and that has meant I have been teaching “for real”, as opposed to the relaying my life story spiel. If I’m honest I wasn’t quite expecting to have quite so much responsibility from the get go, but I’ve found that I’ve enjoyed having some freedom with the class, being able to take a topic and create some kind of activity to get the students engaged! It’s been a challenge for sure, I mean when it’s your first time teaching and all the direction you are given is ‘Could you do a lesson on marketing?’ when you’ve never studied anything to do with marketing in your life, that’s quite intense. Yet once I put my mind to it a little and got creative, I actually managed to put together a half decent lesson which even the real teacher complimented, so I guess I must be doing something right?! The classes I teach in range in ages from 15-19, which is good because I get to do some more fun topics as well as some more complex topics for the older students preparing for their exams. In all it’s been a pretty chaotic time settling into the routine of school life, especially the early morning starts.. at 7.45 it takes a few more layers of concealer under my eyes before I look like a presentable human being.

Aside from school business the past few weeks have also been about tying up some last admin bits and bobs.. bank accounts, registration and all that jazz, which I fear is still not entirely complete…(Why so many forms Austria?!) and really just settling back into life in Graz. Autumn time has officially arrived here much to my delight! The leaves are turning all shades of yellow and orange and it’s now acceptable to put on a wooly hat, so I’m very happy about that. I’ve been busying myself with walks by the river in the afternoons and seeing all the locals on their afternoon runs is definitely having its effect on me! Never before have I felt quite so determined to master a weekly exercise routine so I don’t stick out like the ‘unfit Brit’.

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All in all I’d say things are going pretty swimmingly; probably more so than I ever expected. The students and teachers at school are all so welcoming, and as soon as I got a place in the staff room to put my stuff, I felt like I belonged. Aside from that, I mean, look where I get to live! Back in the grünes Herz Österreichs, nestled in the city surrounded by mountains and green and all things austrian thus wonderful.

Life is good.

-K.

Guess who’s back!

Well seen as I have been in Austria for approximately two weeks now, I thought it was about time that I got down to documenting a few things that have been going on.

My journey began once more at Manchester Airport when I once again stayed the night at Premier Inn before flying early the next morning. It still meant an early morning start but at least I could get some mildly acceptable amount of sleep before the journey. Plus, to quote Miranda..I do love a good hotel room. I ordered pizza, made full use of the tea and coffee, then watched X factor from the bath with a facemask on. Perfection.

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Above the clouds

My journey here this time was considerably simpler than the last time, involving only one flight from Manchester to Vienna then a train journey down through the mountains before arriving back in Graz. There was something quite homely about stepping down to the familiar platform and knowing which bus to take and what ticket to ask for etc. it made me really appreciate the fact that I wasn’t doing this for the first time. Returning to my old flat and flatmate was also just the best, it felt like I’d never left!

I wanted to document my journey in a fun and different way so I video blogged some bits and pieces along the way!

The next few days I spent attempting to sort out my room and some laborious admin but in fact I spent a lot of time wandering round the city, taking pictures and pretending that I was here for the first time taking in the beauty of Austria. I got strangely emotional in a way whilst walking through the centre; when I left last time I said that I would be back one day, but deep down I was never quite sure where life would take me! All I knew was that I fell for the city and Austria itself so it was certain I was going to do all I could to get back!

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Rathaus/Townhall, Graz
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Uhrturm, Schlossberg

After a week of settling back into austrian life it was time to head off up north to St. Pölten in Niederösterreich, an hour or so from Vienna, for a week of teacher training. We stayed in a big youth hostel type place where we shared a room with another teaching assistant and we had the chance to meet everyone who would be working in Austria too from the UK and the US. There was, however, no danger or no chance to be shy about meeting people as that evening we were involved in a crash course folk dance workshop. By which I mean a group of almost 80 or so young people, most with two left feet, embarrassed ourselves and were, for the most part, a bit of a lost hope. Nevertheless it was a bit of fun and there’s no better way to break the ice than to be forced to Waltz with strangers…

Most of the training week, however, did not consist of dancing, but we actually had to learn something and figure out how we were going to survive the next year as teaching assistants! This meant lots of classes, discussions, activities and even a morning for test-run teaching at a local school. Overall it was an invaluable few days away, not just because we got to meet everyone and make some friends but also because most of us came away saying how much more confident we felt about the coming year! I got the train back on Friday around lunch time with a couple of other teaching assistants also living in Graz, which was admittedly quite funny to see their excited reactions to the picturesque scenes out the window as we wound round the mountains.

After an intense week it was somewhat a relief to be back! Yet we knew that there were only a couple of days left before we started teaching for real! A daunting, yet mostly exciting prospect…More news about that to come soon!


Katie Louise